perspective

If There’s Anything I Can Do…

There are so many overused sayings right now. Phrases that are just float in one ear and out the other…a year like no other. Unprecedented. Look a little different. Blah blah blah. We hear them so much they lose their meaning.

And then there are the ones that are not only overused but undermeant. One biggie: thoughts and prayers. And the subject of this little rant-ish post: “if there’s anything I can do…”

It’s natural for many of us to want to offer help. Really, it is. I am in this camp and readily offer to give aid when people are in a pinch, a tough spot, or in a full-blown crisis. It’s in my nature (and my enneagram.)

But in recent weeks I’ve wondered… do we really mean it? Or is it just empty comments to make us feel better about the powerlessness we might feel in times of turmoil? What might helping mean?

A friend has a relative in the hospital. They need someone to sit with them in the waiting room. They may need a disinterested friend to sit with them as they talk to the doctor. They need childcare. They need someone to clean their house, take care of their dog. They need grocery shopping. They need respite support.

A co-worker has car trouble. They need to get to work. They need someone to pick them up, take them home, take them out on errands. Take them to the repair shop.

An elderly neighbor is isolated at home. They need technical help with online billpay. They need someone to drive them to doctor’s appointments. They need companionship. They need someone to connect with. A ride to the senior center. A walk at the park. A help with household tasks and chores. They need stimulating talk and even the occasional adventure.

So many people have needs. It’s actually overwhelming to think of all the ways that others may need help. Some of these remain invisible. People don’t ask others for what they might need. We are afraid of inconveniencing others. Afraid to share our vulnerability. Afraid to need others.

I do get this because there are many times we ask for help and people bail out at the last minute. Why say “if there’s anything you need” if you don’t really mean it?

On the flip side, if you do ask someone for something, expect them to come through. It’s frustrating to sign up to give help then have that blown off at the last minute. If you actually ask for help, mean it.

Logistics can be a nightmare. Yes, there is often some measure of juggling, reprioritizing, shuffling needed. People are worth it. There is no merit badge for suffering in silence.

Whatever it is you say or do, mean it. Don’t drop in empty offers of help to make yourself feel better. Be sincere. Not someone who gives too much lip service and not enough actual service.

perspective

Let the Tears Come

You could hear it coming…a pause that lasted a little too long. The turn away from the microphone. Then, when she turned back, the tell tale crack in her voice. Tears.

The people around me became visibly and audibly uncomfortable. Squirming in chairs. A woman a few feet away recoiled, mumbling “oh no, oh don’t” under her breath. Crying isn’t allowed.

What is it about crying that gets people upset? Why is it wrong to do it in public? In a speech, ok, blubbering tears may make you harder to understand, but still. Why is that strong emotion supposed to be kept inside, kept out of sight?

For me, crying isn’t unusual. I cry when I’m happy. I cry when I’m touched by something. I cry when I’m overwhelmed or upset. And of course, I cry when I’m sad. I cry at commercials, photos, memories, songs, all kinds of stuff.

Sometimes people say crying is a sign of femininity and, therefore, weakness. I disagree and this is sexist, People’s discomfort with emotion is the real pathology. Humans are feeling beings. I am sure we all know examples of people who keep all their emotions bottled up. Sometimes those people are cold. Sometimes they wait and explode.

So I say, let the tears come. Keep talking as you weep. There are beautiful and tragic things in this world and it is ok to react to them, respond to them, and let people see us resonating deeply with this mixed-up universe.

Feeling isn’t weakness.

friendship, giving

Listen Up!

I often talk about active listening skills in professional settings. I often challenge many participants (especially males) in those environments to engage in activities that test their ability to actively listen.

It may not be every male who can’t listen but it is definitely a higher number than women by far. I often think about the why of this…

Listening is the greatest gift you can give to another human. Anyone can give quick advice when somebody has a problem but those who are actively listening can hear your emotion, feel your pain and generally connect with you. Listening takes time. Listening requires one to be patient.

When I think of my own life and frustrations, I think of how my spouse doesn’t listen a lot of time. Doesn’t engage or empathize with anyone who has an issue or struggle. This makes me think back to something my mom taught me at a young age. Never pass judgment on somebody until you have walked a day in their shoes.

In order to be supportive or helpful one has to be willing to set their own feelings to the side, get down on your level, listen and really relate to your issues or struggles. This doesn’t even have to occur face to face!

If you are struggling and you text your life partner, one would hope they could read your words and really listen to your hurt. Unfortunately, I have seen first hand that many close to me are grossly incapable of doing this. 

I think this honestly comes down to their inability to get down on your level. Feel the hurt. It’s a lack of genuineness. Ask yourself, who do your reach out to when you need to talk? Is it your mom? Your best friend? Your sibling? Your spouse? Who?

Then ask yourself who will listen to you when you feel troubled? Is it the same person? Maybe it’s more than one person. The point is you are never going to reach out to the person who lectures you, passes judgment on you, or just brushes you off.

In order to be a better listener you need to give of yourself. You need to put the phone down and listen to the person in front of you. Maybe you need to stop playing a video game to read the words of a loved one.

Today more than ever our words are powerful. In today’s digital world words are a big way of communicating. Sending a note of praise. Sending a text of good will. Even sending an emoji with a smile is positive communication. We are all capable but not everyone does it.
Positive communication opens the door for building trust. One day somebody may need you. They may need you to hear or read their words. They may need you when they are struggling.

If you are not capable of using your active listening skills you may never hear or read those words. It’s unfortunate that many I know struggle in this area. This why I am opting to write this post.

If one person can make a change based on this blog, I feel like I have made an impact. Listen up. Turn on your antennas. Today’s world is hectic and crazy. We are all busy. We are all trapped in a digital world. But we are all capable of listening to words spoken or words written or even emailed / texted if we just slow down, pause and think about what another is saying. 

Remember “tell me more” offers the one person with words hope that somebody is there to listen to them. Offering hope is free.

I know I am making it a point to listen more listen to all around me and I encourage you to do the same. It’s a new year. Why not make it a goal to be a better listener?

Listen up!

challenges

Distant. Detached. Depressed.

Corona has already taught us a lot.  A lot about ourselves.  A lot about each other. A lot about how our society is set up. And maybe a lot about how lucky we’ve been.

I have realized how often I come into contact with SO MANY people!  I never really thought about how interconnected we all are.  From the gym where I share equipment with dozens of members, to my job in a library circulating books from hundreds of households most days, to going through the door of the grocery store, grabbing a cart without a thought for wiping the push handle, etc.  In light of the corona crisis and my newfound hyperawareness of germs, surfaces, and more, I think sometimes it’s a miracle I am still alive and healthy!

(Confession: I have been moved for years by the scientific revelation that the Amish have fewer allergies in their population likely because they are exposed to dust and allergens early and systematically.  I always used this as a back pocket justification for my disheveled, dusty house.  Ok, I know it’s a stretch, but I am not a fan of cleaning!  Still, at times I have thought that we oversanitize our lives to our detriment.  Covid has me rethinking that approach at the moment, with my bucket of bleach solution in hand, replacing that back pocket argument with a mini hand sanitizer.)

From the beginning of the corona crisis, I have seen the war metaphor as useful.  I generally don’t like it when we talk about everyday things using war phrases.  For example, I cringe when we talk about educators who are “in the trenches” or the need to “bite the bullet.”  But in my mind, corona is a war.  We all are fighting it. And there are people, heroes, on the frontline.

We can see a similarity between now and wartime as well, knowing that in our history, times of war often bring about the greatest lasting transformation.  Huge leaps forward in creativity, innovation, problem-solving, and efficiency happen in wartime.  Problems take on new urgency.  We already see this today in experimenting with existing medications, splitting ventilators to serve multiple patients, and more. Even small businesses like restaurants and retailers are being forced to move forward in new directions, using online ordering, repackaging their offerings to suit families, and so on.  Distilleries are retrofitting to make hand sanitizer. Gyms are delivering classes online, offering advice and help on form through videos, and so on.  It is a time of great change in more areas of life than we can count.

We are seeing how many meetings could have been emails.  We are learning why dozens of Zoom meetings are exhausting.  Also, we are seeing why sometimes physical proximity honestly can’t be replaced. Social distancing, my bet for Oxford’s Word of the Year, is everywhere on the news these days. I get it.  It matters, and apparently it works.  But, I can’t be the only one who is tired of that term, even confused by it. Really, it should be called physical distancing.  Basically keeping bodies (and germs) as far away from each other as we can.  We still need to connect socially in meaningful ways.  A recent podcast about loneliness and its’ many consequences only reinforces this. 

I realized early on in this crisis, people are what we look forward to.  People are what we cherish.  Our daily connections matter. It’s easy to slip into lonely.  Distant. Detached, even depressed. Social connection is more important than ever.  And in some ways connecting is as easy as it has ever been.  Technology affords us so many possibilities, but weeks later I realize it only goes so far. Check on people. Make plans to see your people safely, even if it is hanging out car windows with a cup of coffee.

I try to stay optimistic as much as I can.  This time is fuel that will push societies and communities in new directions.  Things will be lost along the way, including, I fear, many local “mom-and-pop” businesses that give our communities their unique character.  Adapt and Overcome, another military motto, comes to mind here.  Those who can’t adapt may have a hard time making it, especially if this haul turns out to be a long one.  Support the local businesses you want to see make it to the other side of this war. Their survival may depend on your dollars!

As it is with post-war eras, things will also be gained.  Technologies we can’t even imagine yet will become commonplace.  We will have new and meaningful ways to connect. If we focus on nourishing and sustaining what matters, it has a better chance of surviving, and so do we.  We will adapt and we will overcome.